Bucking the trend: smaller homes

A 2,000 square foot house.

It's a long way from 1973, when "single family" usually meant "single story." But numbers clearly show a dip in the size of new American houses.

After three decades of steadily expanding home sizes, the average area of a new house competed in the United States is down  more than 80 square feet from its 2007 peak, according to statistics released recently by the Census Bureau. The average size of a house nationwide declined to 2,438 square feet in 2009. At its peak, the figure was 2,521 square feet.

In keeping with their slightly smaller size, new single-family homes completed in 2009 had fewer bedrooms than previously. After increasing for almost 20 years, the proportion of single-family homes with four bedrooms or more topped out at 39 percent in 2005; it was 34 percent last year. The proportion of single-family homes with three bedrooms increased from 49 percent to 53 percent between 2005 and 2009.

"We also saw a decline in the size of new homes when the economy lapsed into recession in the early 1980s," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The decline of the early 1980s turned out to be temporary, but this time the decline is related to phenomena such as an increased share of first-time home buyers, a desire to keep energy costs down, smaller amounts of equity in existing homes to roll into the next home, tighter credit standards and less focus on the investment component of buying a home. Many of these tendencies are likely to persist and continue affecting the new home market for an extended period."

New single-family homes completed last year also had fewer bathrooms than previously. The proportion of homes with three or more bathrooms was 24 percent last year, a decline from the peak of 28 percent in both 2007 and 2008. The percentage of single-family homes with two bathrooms increased from 35 to 37 last year, and the percentage with 2½ bathrooms was at 31 percent for the third consecutive year. The proportion of single-family homes with 1 or 1½ bathrooms has been below 10 percent for more than a decade.

In 1973, the first year for which the Census Bureau reports characteristics of single-family homes completed, most new single-family homes - 67 percent - had only one story. Twenty-three percent had two or more stories, and 10 percent were split levels. The average size of a house back then was 1,660 square feet.

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